Sunday, April 11, 2010

Man the Barricades

Last week, Helena Guergis finally fell from her perch. It was not a surprise. As Adam Radwanski suggested in The Globe and Mail, her downfall did not mark a turning point in Canadian history. Her story and her husband's story are not new; in fact, they are as old as the Book of Genesis. We have been treated to a tale of two young and ambitious people who began to believe their own press releases -- or, in Guergis' case, the letters to the editor which were written by her own staff.

And, beyond the obvious hypocrisy of a party which is obsessed with bringing in mandatory sentences -- except for fellow public servants -- the saga represents another object lesson in how this Prime Minister handles problems. Having told a press conference that "serious allegations" had been brought against Guergis, Mr. Harper then announced that he had received Guergis' resignation, had called in the RCMP and the Ethics Commissioner to investigate, and had thrown Geurgis out of the Conservative caucus.

Tossing elected representatives from the caucus is nothing new for Harper. He did the same thing to Garth Turner and Bill Casey. And, when embarrassing information emerged about Brian Mulroney, he ordered his minions to treat Mulroney as persona non-grata. Mr. Harper frequently banishes -- or tries to banish -- those he deems toxic to the brand.

But, once again, he has tried to pull down the Cone of Silence. When asked what the allegations against Guergis were, he said, "Under the circumstances I will not comment on them further." It was another example of a well established pattern. Mr. Harper has just returned from his second prorogation of parliament in thirteen months -- the first time when he faced a vote of non-confidence in the House, the second time when the committee investigating Afghan prisoner abuse demanded uncensored documents about how those prisoners were handled.

He tried to dump thousands of redacted documents at the committee's doorstep, hoping to create a diversion. But information keeps leaking out -- most recently in Sunday's Globe, which recounts the story of Canadian military involvement with Kandahar's infamous Brigade 888. When Guergis' husband -- defeated MP Rahim Jaffer -- walked away from a drunk driving and cocaine possession charge with a $500 fine, Kevin Donovan of The Toronto Star, began digging into Jaffer's relationships with people who have been charged with fraud, as well as the former MP's claims to have had access to the Prime Minister's Office.

There is probably no substance to Jaffer's assertions that the levers of power were at his finger tips. Like Duddy Kravitz, he seems to have been perpetually pitching, engaged in a never ending effort to promote himself and to rise in the world. It would appear that Guergis herself has a similar history. They both have encountered similar fates.

But the real issue is the character of the Prime Minister. His is obsessed with control -- and control of information is his first line of defense. He has a hard time dealing with public scrutiny; and he seeks to limit it at every turn. He has no problem when it comes to appearing at public events, like the Olympics, or the remembrance ceremony to mark the death of Canada's last veteran of World War I. But he draws the line when the opposition parties or the press seek information. Like the Pope, he has concluded that all they wish to do is to spread "petty gossip."

But the information keeps seeping through the dam Mr. Harper has constructed. The second Bush administration, seeking allies when it ginned up the War in Iraq, co-opted large segments of the American press. This prime minister has always been suspicious of the Canadian press; and, from the very beginning, he declared that they -- people like Garth Turner -- were the enemy. And, in the end, it will be those "ink stained wretches" who will bring him down.


Muckraker said...

Please don't be so harsh on our Prime Minister, Mister Gray. He's a damned fine man. What's happening to him could happen to anyone with the grit to put his principles first.

In appointing Ms. Guergis as the first-ever junior Minister of State for Women, the Prime Minister went far out on a slender limb to demonstrate his support for the women of this country.

At the time of her appointment, Ms. Guergis must have seemed the perfect choice for the responsibility, the epitomy of what a modern woman should be: business-like, assertive, a high achiever, a compassionate person who would serve as a role model for all women. Unfortunately, things don't always work out the way we'd like, and Mister Harper had to let her go because she turned out to be too much the stereotype of another sort of feminist, all too-common: selfish, arrogant, ruthless,vindictive, shallow.

I feel sorry for our Prime Minister. Through no fault of his own, he's had to dismiss a person he'd handpicked for a ministerial portfolio which he obviously considered of vital importance.

While those opposed to Mister Harper will likely point out that while he promoted Ms. Guergis he also cut funding for women's advocacy groups by 43%, closed 12 of 16 Status of Women offices across Canada, and included nothing for childcare services in his latest budget, we shouldn't take those sorts of objections too seriously. Saving money's always important, especially in these hard times.

I'm sure when we discover why Mister Harper has been lying about how and why he fired Ms. Guergis, we'll think better of him. He's very big on family values, you know. He's said so many times.

Besides, as I think you advised, in the interests of justice, we shouldn't judge other people's actions until we've walked a mile in their shoes.

ChrisJ said...

I must admit that I am not glued to the coverage of the Guergis story - most likely because, as you say, it's the same old, same old.

About Harper, I made up my mind quite some time ago, and he never does or says anything to change my view. Your take on him and his brand is always exact.

Owen Gray said...

Your comment, Muckraker, makes me think that some of Jonathan Swift's blood must course through your veins. The man who wrote "A Modest Proposal" would appreciate the tone of your comment.

I actually feel somewhat sorry for Ms. Guergis. Allegations were made and the lady was punished. No evidence was offered. Apparently, none was needed. Mr. Harper's world is increasingly Kafkaesque.

And, Chris, I cannot help but think that my take on Harper is pretty common. The fact that he has kept the HMCS Harper afloat this long says more about the Opposition than it does about him.

Anonymous said...

Dear Muckraker,

You wrote:

"In appointing Ms. Guergis as the first-ever junior Minister of State for Women, the Prime Minister went far out on a slender limb to demonstrate his support for the women of this country."

Though [in general] I agree with what you said in your comment, I want to [if only apparently] disagree with you on this point for at least two reasons.

First: if anyone went "out on a slender limb" was probably Guergis. Second: I don't think Harper has ever tried to "demonstrates his support for women."

He has tried to show that women support him. A recent quote from the Globe and Mail, [if true], suggests this:

Ms. Guergis, who is now an independent MP, used to sit behind the Prime Minister and was therefore regularly in the background on television. Conservatives revealed a new seating plan today that placed four women directly behind the Prime Minister: Labour Minister Rona Ambrose, who now also has Ms. Guergis’s former duties as secretary of state for the status of women, International Development Minister Bev Oda, Manitoba MP Shelley Glover and Quebec MP Sylvie Boucher.

"Besides, as I think you advised, in the interests of justice, we shouldn't judge other people's actions until we've walked a mile in their shoes."

In honour of my growing bald spot, may I ... split hairs?

Most recently [viz., the conversation about justice a week or two ago], Mr. Gray did not say that "we shouldn't judge other people's actions until we've walked a mile in their shoes."

He said: "And one can only gain respect for someone if one has the capacity to -- as Atticus Finch told his daughter Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird -- 'get inside someone else's skin and walk around in it.'"

As fair as I want to be, I will avoid the skin of the Prime Minister, his caucus, and indeed, all of the Members of Parliament to the best of my ability. [And don't even get me started on doorknobs!]. Nevertheless, I think all of us can and should judge someone's words and actions, even if we have not walked around in their skin (or shoes) as a matter of principle. [I'm sure an Imelda Marcos joke in there somewhere. But I digress.]

ChrisJ: I too am not glued to the Guergis story. As a rule, I feel the same about most so-called "scandals." It's not that they are not worthy of attention. They usually are. Just... not so much attention.

What goes on during the first reading of a bill, and in the subsequent committees, is probably more important. But for some reason that's usually less-than-"news"worthy.


Owen Gray said...

I would agree with you that the carefully crafted image of the women ministers behind Mr. Harper has more to do with their support for him than his support for them.

I suspect that Mr. Harper demands unwavering support -- as in, "do as I say, and I'll brook no disagreement" -- from all his ministers, regardless of gender.

And I completely understand why you might want to steer clear of the prime minister's skin. That said, it might be instructive to walk around in it a bit. One can root for Macbeth's demise, and still understand what makes him tick.

As for your growing bald spot, you have my sympathy. I, too, started with a small spot. Over the years, it has experienced exponential growth.